Waterford will have more left in tank in league replay with Clare
Allianz National Hurling League Division One final replay: Waterford v Clare (Sunday, 3.30pm, Thurles, live on TG4)
HURLING aficionados might not like to admit it, but last Sunday’s drawn final looked an awful lot like a modern game of football.
The goal-laden semi-finals were more the exception than the 0-22 apiece stalemate which will be repeated a time or two before this year is out. Waterford have pleaded they do not play a defensive game, but one look at the video of last weekend’s game paints that as a lie.
At times, as in most games, they had one forward inside the Clare half. On the odd occasion they tried to play the ball inside - as opposed to shooting from distance - Shane Bennett looked so woefully isolated.
Both sides loaded their defence with bodies. Neither side, it must be said, will be overly concerned by their defensive performances. There was hardly a goal chance to speak of and the pressure on the shooters was immense at times.
To say it had the shape of a football game is not to demean it. Credit must go to Davy Fitzgerald and Donal Óg Cusack for mirroring the Déise shape. Their defensive shape was every bit as solid and effective as their opponents’. But equally, Clare’s forwards had no real joy in open play. As impressive as the defensive play was at both ends, the attacking play left a lot to be desired.
Clare goalkeeper Patrick Kelly was able to take a litany of short puckouts, predominantly to Patrick O’Connor, but so many of his subsequent clearances were just rained down on top of the massed Waterford ranks and came straight back out. Darach Honan, despite his size, had very little joy from a ball-winning perspective.
Aside from the dramatic last-gasp equalisers at the end of normal time and extra-time, the spectacle was far from brilliant. The shooting at both ends was uncharacteristically poor, but such was the pressure exerted on the ball that the high wide count - 35 between them - could well be repeated.
Both sides were able to put serious pressure on the ball in the middle third. There were constant turnovers in that sector. The intensity bore plenty of the same hallmarks we’ll see when they meet again in the Munster Championship in a few short weeks.
The drawn game’s saving grace was its final 10 minutes of normal-time and its extra-time. Bodies were visibly fatiguing. It might have been frustrating, but it certainly wasn’t shadow boxing. In front of 19,498 souls who made the noise of twice that, the will from both sides to win couldn’t be questioned. Maurice Shanahan’s reaction to salvaging a replay for the reigning champions left no room for doubting that.
It was Clare, though, who laid down the bigger marker. So far off the boil since winning the county’s second All-Ireland three years ago, you could see the fight hanging out of them.
They will have proven to themselves that they can, and will, compete this summer. Waterford may well take solace from that as well. No matter who loses on June 5 - when it really counts - it won’t be the last we see of them.
At the time of writing, both teams were yet to announce their selections. Waterford had Austin Gleeson passed fit during the week after he had to come off with cramp, though Shane Fives is a doubt after suffering an ankle injury four minutes from the end of normal time. There may be a bit more game time for Maurice Shanahan and Pauric Mahony, the latter seeing just the last two minutes of the original tie.
Davy Fitz looks set to be without John Conlon for a few weeks, though Colin Ryan did come off the bench and Shane O’Donnell was also introduced.
The psychological boost of silverware would be gladly welcomed in either camp. To pick a winner, Waterford look to have more improvement in them from the first outing. But you sense that, no matter which way it falls, victory will count for very little in a month’s time.